When it comes to marksmanship, Kenlee Ewton, 18, of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., is all in.
She’s a regular at the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s (CMP) Monthly Matches, an indoor competition series for air rifle and air pistol athletes. The event is held each month at the CMP’s own air gun ranges, the Gary Anderson CMP Competition Center in Ohio and the Judith Legerski CMP Competition Center in Alabama.
For Kenlee, who chooses to compete at the Alabama location, the Monthly Matches are another way of training and interacting with likeminded individuals who share a common interest – marksmanship.
“I enjoy how most of the people in this sport support each other, despite being on different teams or what their scores are. The community is great,” Kenlee said. “It’s uplifting to see familiar faces at the Monthly Matches in Anniston. Plus, the atmosphere is welcoming, and it’s easy to get to know other shooters.”
Kenlee is a hardworking athlete, earning a prestigious Junior Distinguished Badge #1453 in 2019. She also recently won gold at the Tennessee Junior Olympic qualifier for air rifle and silver for smallbore. In 2021, she was among the top athletes at the USA Shooting Winter Airgun match – with several other notable accolades over her career.
Finishing up high school this spring, Kenlee’s now eager to jump into college rifle in the fall after a challenging and insightful journey through the sport she began at just 11 years old.
“My dad has coached me from the beginning and is still coaching me now,” she said.
Kenlee’s beginnings in marksmanship were through the Rhea County 4-H BB program back in 2016 – finishing the year sixth overall on her team with her dad as coach. The following year, she placed first and was able to attend the Daisy Nationals in Arkansas.
She made the move to sporter air rifle in 2018 and went on to compete in the 2018 4-H Tennessee State championship, where she earned gold. In November 2018, she began transitioning into precision air rifle. The discipline is currently used in international air gun events, collegiate rifle and even the Olympics.
Since her 4-H club didn’t offer precision, Kenlee and her dad started practicing together at home in her living room. That same year, she attended the CMP’s Three-Position Air Rifle Camp – a popular program held around the country throughout the summer months.
“I found my first camp to be extremely helpful and insightful,” she said. “I was in the starting stages of moving to precision, so seeing how others train was an immense help.”
“I still use a lot of the things that I learned from my first camp, and, it was fun,” she explained. “I recommend athletes new to the sport go to CMP Camps and other camps. Some colleges will hold camps as well, but CMP camps are great for those who are transitioning into precision.”
Kenlee competed in precision for a year before adding smallbore rifle to the mix, practicing outside on the family’s pasture. She now trains four or five days per week, using either a 3×20 smallbore and a 60 air or 2×60 air with a 10-minute break in between. Mostly, she works on consistency with her shot process.
“Which is harder than you’d think,” she admitted. “One of my main issues is overthinking or overcomplicating the process when, in relativity, it is simple. Things like overthinking take time to fix and overcome, but it is possible. I am getting better at it.”
For Kenlee, her process is easy to follow. She loads the pellets the same way each time, picks the gun up the same way – placing her hand, cheek, hip and elbows in the same spot, with her finger in the same place on the trigger. What was once a hard focus is now just part of her regular routine when she’s on the firing line.
“Over time your process will become subconscious and muscle memory,” she said. “That is the main goal of the process, for me.”
As for equipment, Kenlee switched to a Styer Air Rifle in December 2022 and uses Anschutz sights. For smallbore, she shoots a 1907 Anschutz rifle with Anschutz sights for all positions.
“I like the 20 clicks,” she said. “It makes it easy to make slight changes in the grouping.”
Her advice to other juniors who are meeting challenges in their own marksmanship careers?
“You can do it!” she encouraged. “There is a phrase to keep in mind: ‘Practice makes better.’ You can only get better, but you will never reach perfection since the standards for this sport are constantly on the rise.”
“Don’t add up your score while you are shooting,” she went on. “You can only control your performance and how you do your process. Try to find a positive in every practice and competition. Even if you have a rough day, try to find something you did well. You will learn something new every day.”
Kenlee also encourages others to take official college visits, like she did. Some college rifle teams even have open competitions.
“I enjoyed getting to shoot at the colleges I was interested in because I was able to look around at the college also,” she said.
Ultimately, Kenlee found she enjoyed The University of Memphis the most and is excited to join as one of the team’s newest members in August 2023.
“I can’t wait to be a part of the team and have a coach at the practices and matches to help me when I need it,” she said.
Interested in joining a College Rifle Team? CMP has several resources for junior marksman interested in continuing their marksmanship journey into their college years. Visit CMP’s College Resources web page at https://thecmp.org/youth/college-resources/. CMP also has a venue for athletes to indirectly connect with NCAA coaches called College Connect along with a CMP Guide to College Recruiting. If you have questions on how to get started in a college marksmanship career or need any other assistance, please contact the CMP at (419) 635-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
— By Ashley Dugan, CMP Staff Writer
The Civilian Marksmanship Program is a federally chartered 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation. It is dedicated to firearm safety and marksmanship training and to the promotion of marksmanship competition for citizens of the United States. For more information about the CMP and its programs, log onto www.TheCMP.org.